SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In Sunday's loss to the 49ers, the accumulation of explosive plays may not tell the story you think it does. If we're just saying an explosive play is a play that produces 15-plus yards, here's the break down:
San Francisco had nine explosive plays. They earned 203 yards on said plays. In drives with at least one explosive play, the 49ers scored a combined 31 points (their entire final total). By comparison, the Falcons had four explosive plays. They earned 139 yards on said plays, and scored 10 points in drives with at least one explosive play.
From a defensive perspective, Duron Harmon said the accumulation of these chunk plays "tremendously" impacted the flow of the game and how it ultimately developed.
They were giving receivers too much space in the secondary. The Falcons pass rush wasn't affecting Jimmy Garoppolo. And the 49ers ran the ball the way they wanted to, getting through the line of scrimmage and into "the deep void of the second level" of the defense. And at the end of the day, that's essentially what the 49ers did all afternoon: They did what they wanted to do because they could.
"Run the ball, play action, run the ball, play action," Harmon explained. "That's how they were able to get those big plays."
From an offensive perspective, though, Arthur Smith made a point to note that the accumulation of explosive plays means little if you're not scoring in the red zone, which the Falcons didn't.
"Sometimes explosive plays can be a misnomer," Smith said. "At the end of the day, it came down to situational football and we didn't punch it in there."
By "there" he means inside the red zone. On Sunday, the Falcons were 0-for-3 in goal to go situations. In situations in which they needed just one yard to score or earn a first down, they were 1-for-7. That, more than any big chunk play, was the difference in the game, per Smith.
But both things can be true at once because we're talking about an offense and defense, not just one unit. The accumulation of explosive plays for the defense and lack of explosives for the offense can be both noteworthy and a "misnomer" according to how you look at it. And Smith and Harmon's answers back this up.
The defense needs to be better in limiting these explosives. Meanwhile, the offense needs to capitalize on explosive plays when they come. Both can - and are - simultaneously true.
"We made plays down the field, but we didn't make critical plays in the red zone," Smith said. "That was the difference in the game."
"You have to execute at this point in the season," Harmon said, "and the 49ers out-executed us."
In all, though...
"We certainly need improvement," Matt Ryan concluded.
And that's ultimately what came out of the Falcons 31-13 loss to San Francisco.
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